Scramble for hockey history treasures begins when team clinches Stanley Cup

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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

VANCOUVER - It takes only an instant to turn a rubber puck into gold.

In the moment winners are separated from losers, even a spittle-drenched mouthguard transforms into a piece of history while the other team's gear is left as only a gross relic of what could have been.

Collectors and sports halls of fame have been preparing for months to get their hands on the artifacts of the 2011 Stanley Cup run, but it's not until one team clinches the coveted trophy that their precise wish lists become crystal clear.

"It's so strange how, prior to that moment, it's just another item, and then after that moment it's almost like it acquires this power, this magnetism, and people are just drawn to it," said Jason Beck, curator for the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame.

"In the sports hall of fame world, that's really exciting because oftentimes you don't know what that next item is going to be."

The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto holds nearly 7,000 square-metres of history about Canada's favourite sport and is expected to take in the bulk of memorabilia from this year's Vancouver Canucks vs. Boston Bruins series.

While six people within the museum's archival departments make most decisions about what items they want, it's then up to staff and people like Phil Pritchard to actually convince players to make permanent donations.

"When we're telling them that what's going to go on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame is going to immortalize them and their team for such a great year, they understand it a lot more than me just going in and saying 'Can I have your skates?'" said Pritchard, the museum's curator, who's also spent the past two decades as keeper of the Stanley Cup.

Most sought-after items include the game-winning puck, stick or jersey, jerseys from the finals, and players' skates, said Pritchard.

The museum keeps a special watch for equipment from team goalies Canuck Roberto Luongo and Bruins Tim Thomas, and team captains Canuck Henrik Sedin and Bruins Zdeno Chara.

Museum officials are also hankering for oddball items, such as a neon bodysuit donned by one of Vancouver's famous green men—the spastic superfan duo who try to rattle opponents from the sidelines and at this year's playoffs even met Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"To have one of those costumes would be amazing," Pritchard said.

Another unexpected treasure now on display at the museum is the Canadian flag draped from a golf ball retriever arm that goalie Luongo grabbed from a fan in the crowd at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Canada's gold-medal game champion handed it back to the fan after he and his teammates skated around the ice with the proud symbol, and that fan later made the donation.

Each year, the museum creates a new memorial paying tribute to the year's best team, and produces a video of highlights from the past season. But its staff also crave artifacts from throughout the season as well.

"Player A might have been leading scorer all year, but maybe in the playoffs he hasn't scored as many goals," Pritchard said. "But in order for the team to get where it is, he had to score those points."

But despite the museum's best arguments, sometimes players want to keep their own stuff. Pritchard said that's OK too, but he believes it works out best if they allow the non-profit registered charity to educate them on best preservation techniques. Pinning a jersey up behind the bar with a nail that rusts is a no-no.

"Hockey history is happening every day, and we're trying to preserve it from a museum point of view like an art gallery preserves art," Pritchard said. "So as long as it's saved somewhere, we'd love to show it off to fans."

Security is tight in the sports halls of fame, and officials are dedicated. Earlier this month, Hockey Hall of Fame chairman Bill Hay called on the NHL to preserve pucks that are in play when the Stanley Cup is won.

His comments reflect discontent over the mystery of the missing puck that scored the game-winning goal during last year's Chicago Blackhawks' victory, the team's first cup in 49 years.

At the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame, Beck is hoping to gethis hands on a few items—whatever the Toronto museum and Canucks club itself doesn't snap up first.

The curator dons white gloves to show off a pair of Lester Patrick's skates.

The hockey legend built the Pacific Coast Hockey Association with his brother, Frank, about 100 years ago, and they are recognized for creating new rules that transformed the game into how it's played today.

"Most people are very respectful of items," Beck said.

"There's a few who get a little too touchy-feely, which is fine because we're not dealing with really delicate, intricate pieces of jewellery that can fall apart. It's usually newer stuff that's meant to take a little push and shove."


Michelle Jay/NWHL

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